Villa Analysis: Manchester United’s Tactical Shift Trumps Unai Emery’s

The Villa High Line vs the United Long Ball

By Alex Martinez

Aston Villa’s 20-game scoring streak under Unai Emery and their 10 game unbeaten run finally come to an end, with the Villains losing 1-0 at Old Trafford. Naturally, it was Bruno Fernandes who was the nemesis, continuing his brilliant record against Villa, with him now having scored more goals (seven) in his career against Villa than against any other team (ala Ronaldo).

While Villa may have had the best away record in 2023, Old Trafford is always be a tough place to visit. In fact, they are unbeaten in 14 League home games, the longest current ongoing run in the Premier League. Their last defeat at Old Trafford was against Brighton on the opening weekend of the season. 

Statistical Analysis- Combatting United’s Attacking Structure

To tackle United, Villa kept an extremely high line compared to other matches, with United frequently playing the ball over the midfield, into the attacking third, for either Rashford or Sancho to chase after. In fact, United’s defence and midfield had a combined total of 67 long balls, with 34 of them being accurate. This stat proves just how many times United tried to lift the ball over midfield, and tried to combat Villa’s high line, working at times, especially for the decisive goal.

A key reason that  it only worked occasionally was Emi Martinez. The World Cup winning keeper had an 100% run out success rate, and his four clearances certainly helped limit Rashford’s chances.

United also had 512 passes, compared to Villa’s 369. Normally under Emery, Villa are the more dominant side in terms of passes, pass completion rate, and possession, but The Red Devils were a step ahead on all of those statistics (512/369, 85%/78%, 57%/43%).

United certainly have brought a new intensity to their game under Erik ten Hag with a good work ethic off the ball. They snapped at Villa in possession and closed down space very well with a tenacity that contributed to seven unsanctioned fouls in the first half.

Vanishing Watkins

Compared to the past couple of months, Ollie Watkins was something of a ghost. He only registered 13 touches, and lost possession seven times, which is unheard of for him. He was on his own at the top, and his nine passes shows how little he got involved in the match.

Mings And Konsa Keep Rashford Quiet

A good sign to see was the partnership of Tyrone Mings and Ezri Konsa that helped dictate the backline, which the duo keeping Villa in the game until the very end. Both of them won all of their ground and aerial duels.

Ezri Konsa registered two blocks, and had an astounding 97.8% pass accuracy, which was the best in the starting 11. Tyrone also proved his worth, with 8 clearances, and a 63% long ball accuracy helped combat United’s pressing structure when needed. Which is why Rashford only had 24 touches, compared to his average of 37.2 per game. 

This match was the end of a magnificent unbeaten run. The challenge for Europe is still on the cards for Villa, however it looks like Liverpool are nailed on to get one of the Europa League places. Emery definitely missed the absences of Matty Cash, Boubacar Kamara, Leon Bailey and Philippe Coutinho, who would have provided a different outlet against United. Hopefully, at least some of the quartet can return for Villa’s remaining games.

As always, UTV

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